Managing: Science or art


Managing like all other practices whether medicine, music composition, engineering, accountancy, purchasing, marketing or even cricket is an art. It is know-how. It is doing things in the light of the realities of a situation. Yet managers can work better by using the organized knowledge about management. It is this knowledge that constitutes science. Thus managing as a practice is an art, the organized knowledge underlying this practice may be referred to as a science. In this context science and art are not mutually exclusive they are complimentary.

As science improves so should art as has happened in the physical and biological sciences. To be sure the science underlying managing is fairly crude and inexact. This is true because many variables with which managers deal are extremely complex. Nevertheless such management knowledge can certainly improve managerial practice. Physicians without the advantage of science would be little more than witch doctors. Executives who attempt to manage without management science must trust to luck, intuition and past experience.

In managing as in any other field, unless practitioners are to learn by trial and error and it has been said that mangers’ errors are their sub-ordinates’ trials there is no place they can turn for meaningful guidance other than the accumulated knowledge underlying their practice.

The Role of Management theory

In the field of management, then, the role of theory is to provide a means of classifying significant and pertinent management knowledge. In the area of designing an effective organization structure, for example, there are a number of principles that are interrelated and that have a predictive value for managers.

Some principles give guidelines for delegating authority; these include the principle of delegating by results expected, the principle of equality of authority and responsibility, and the principle of unity of command.

Principles in management are fundamental truths (or what are thought to be truths` at a given time), explaining relationship between two or more sets of variables, usually an independent variable and a dependent variable. Principles may be descriptive or predictive, and not prescriptive. That is, they describe how one variable related to another— what will happen when these variables interact. They do not prescribe what people should do. For example in physics, if gravity is the only force acting on a falling body, the body will fall at an increasing speed; this principle does not say whether anyone should jump off the roof of a high building. Or take the example of Parkinson’s Law: Work tends to expand to fill the time available. Even if Parkinson’s somewhat frivolous principle is correct (as it probably is), it does not mean that a manager should lengthen the time available for people to do a job. As another example in management the principles of unity of command states that more often an individual reports to a single superior, the more likely it is that the individual will feel a sense of loyalty and obligation and the less likely it is that there will be confusion about instructions. The principle merely predicts. It in no sense implies that individuals should never report to more them one person. Rather, it implies that if they do so, their managers must be available of possible dangers and take these risks into account in balancing the advantage and disadvantages of multiple commands.

Like engineers who apply physical principles to the design of an instrument, managers who apply theory to managing must usually blend principles with realities.